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Innovative Education Program Enhances Vaccination Rates

Jun 20, 2019 07:00AM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

By Alex Strauss

As “anti vaxxer” rhetoric heats up online and preventable diseases threaten public health in some pockets of the county, Sanford Health has managed to not only protect but increase its system-wide vaccination rates.

That is thanks, in part, to work being done under the leadership of Andrea Polkinghorn, RN, Sanford’s Enterprise Immunization Strategy Leader. For the last two years, Polkinghorn has been responsible for standardizing immunization efforts throughout the Sanford Health footprint.

“The role was created about five years ago when Sanford received grants to improve HPV vaccination rates, which tend to lag nationally,” says Polkinghorm. “Since then, we pulled a ton of immunization data, including individual physicians and clinics, and used that to figure out how to make improvements in our overall vaccination rates.”

One area that clearly needed shoring up was education. Polkinghorn says, although providers and nurses have some training in the diseases for which they are vaccinating, it is not always enough to create vaccine advocates.

“In the past, these diseases that we are vaccinating against were much more common,” says Plokinghorn. “Now, these diseases may not be seen at all until there is an outbreak and like the measles outbreaks. It is hard when you haven’t had the personal opportunity to see and treat these diseases.”

A major pillar of Sanford’s vaccination efforts is the Vax Champ program. Created two years ago, Vax Champ is a leadership development and education program which recruits and trains clinic staff members to function as vaccine “champions”, providing educational resources and standardization within their respective clinics.

The six-month training program is by application only and accepts 20 to 30 participants per cohort. Vax Champ training includes information about each vaccine, vaccine administration, storage and handling of vaccines, and ways to create a plan to improve adult and child immunization rates within the organization.

“We also do quite a bit on vaccine hesitancy,” says Polkinghorn. “There is a lot of misinformation on social media. It can create hesitation and doubt in people’s minds. It is important that we be able to respond with knowledge and confidence when people have questions. To do that, we need to know what is out there. So that is a big component of the program.”

Sanford has trained about 50 Vax Champs so far and Polkinghorn says the program has already made an impact.

“We have seen great improvements in our vaccination rates overall,” she says. “ We have some rockstar clinics and others that tend to struggle a bit, especially in areas where there are pockets of religious beliefs which can affect rates. But we know that this is an issue that is not going away. We are having a lot of internal conversations. It is possible that measles could be in our region at any moment. Our staff need to be aware not only of vaccine recommendations but of what to do if there is a suspected case.”